EARLIER THIS MONTH, I stopped by Spirit Horse Ranch in Port Angeles (www.spirithorseranch.net) to visit owners Becky and Dave Seibel and talk about their mustangs. There, I beheld a bunch of happy, frolicking horses and dogs.
“We strive for happy around here,” said Becky, chuckling.
“We want to make everyone else happy by getting them all mustangs.”
The Seibels have dedicated their retirement years to protecting, promoting and finding good homes for rescued Bureau of Land Management mustangs and burros.
She does most of the horse training, while Dave does most of the facilities maintenance and building work.
Last month, the Seibels hosted a sanctioned BLM adoption.
BLM wranglers brought up 10 horses for the event, two of which Becky now has in training.
That brings the BLM mustang count at the ranch up to six, plus they have two Morgans, a quarter horse and two mules.
The mustangs are of various ages and stages of training, and all are available for adoption.
The Seibels are so dedicated to helping the mustangs find good homes that Becky “provides free gentling and halter training to those who want to adopt a mustang.”
Dave helps the new owner with building the right paddock and shelter setup.
BLM adoption requirements include a minimum-20-foot-by-20-foot paddock with a 5-foot-high fence for horses 18 months and younger, and a 6-foot fence for 18 months and older.
For more BLM requirements, visit www.blm.gov.
“One good thing about these mustangs is they don’t come with any bad baggage because they’ve never been handled by people before,” said Becky.
“Most all of them come out of the mountains, so they’re already mountain-trail-savvy and sure-footed, which is invaluable for riding trails around here.”
She started volunteering and gentling horses for BLM in the San Francisco region in 2001.
She had four mustangs in training when she met Dave, who, while he’d ridden most of his life, said it was usually “just a few times in the summer and a way of having fun.”
Now, he’s fully entrenched in the lifestyle at the ranch and “loving it.”
Time to retire
When it came time to retire, they visited Dave’s hometown of Port Angeles.
A local friend suggested they look at a ranch property in Elwha Valley just south of Olympic National Park owned by Jan Lauridson.
Becky said while the ranch, with its indoor arena and box stalls, was nice, she wasn’t really sold on it until they hiked down to the Elwha River.
“It was so gorgeous I just started crying,” she said.
“The setting reminded me of my grandpap’s place. I still cry when I think about it because it was such a magical moment.”
When it comes to the mustangs’ initial training, Becky prefers using the bamboo pole method, developed by John Sharp of Prineville, Ore., in the early 1900s.
She starts by standing close to them and talking to them while they eat in the 24-foot-by-24-foot paddock built especially for them.
“They can run if they want and buck, but my body language stays calm, and soon they’re saying, ‘This is OK,’” Becky said.
The pole she uses is 10 feet and is used as an extension of her hand.
While the horse will shy from the touch of the pole at first, the rings on the bamboo feel to the horse like he’s being groomed when the handler rubs the pole slowly back and forth across the horse’s withers.
Once the pole generates a stimulus that seems familiar and pleasant to the horse, he usually will stop reacting negatively to the contact and will try to figure out why something his instincts tell him should be threatening actually feels pretty good.
“Once they feel the pole touching, it’s like you are grooming them, and they start to enjoy it,” she said.
As the horse engages in this thought process, he will begin to reason his way to accepting and interacting with humans, something you usually can’t accomplish if the horse is forcibly restrained or if you come in too close and too fast.
“I like to work them right in the paddock and not in roundpen because I don’t want them to run them around; I want them to gentle down,” she said.
“If they get frantic and start running around, their adrenaline builds up, and I think they fear you more.
“Really, there’s nothing hard about training them. It’s just patience, learning to read their body language really well and having the right enclosure to safely work them in,” Becky said.
■ Noon to 2 p.m. Sunday — Freedom Farm adult workshop. Contact Mary Gallagher at 360-457-4897, email@example.com or www.freedomfarms.net.
■ 9 a.m. Sunday — The Peninsula Performance Horse Association’s annual Halloween schooling show at Baker Stables, 164 Four Winds Road in Port Angeles.
For more information, phone Terri Winters at 360-460-5400.
■ Nov. 16-18 — Bill Richey’s “Horse Despooking and Confidence Clinic” at Olympic View Stables, 136 Finn Hall Road, Port Angeles. Richey is the founder of National Mounted Police Services Inc.
For more information, phone Carol at 360-670-7739 or 360-460-0515.
Karen Griffiths’ column, Peninsula Horseplay, appears every other Wednesday.
If you have a horse event, clinic or seminar you would like listed, please email Griffiths at firstname.lastname@example.org at least two weeks in advance. You can also write Griffiths at PDN, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362.